Traditional Table Lamps – Buying Brass Table Lamps

Traditional Table Lamps – Buying Brass Table Lamps

Traditional – “existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established”

So what is a Traditional table lamp? or in the case of this article what is a traditional Brass table lamp.

Have a look in a specialist lighting shop in any high street, shopping center/mall and you will undoubtedly see Brass table lamps many of which will have a strong traditional design that have design roots going back 100+ years.

Candlesticks and Oil Lamps – A design legacy.

In the early days before Electric lighting there were candles and candlesticks. Many candlesticks were utility items but for people with wealth the humble candlestick could be a design statement. After candlesticks table lamps appeared which were run on Oil burners (Kerosene, also known as paraffin). Antique oil lamps varied greatly in design but many were beautifully ornate with stunning glass lampshades, beautiful galleries and ornate and finely cast Brass and metal detailing.

As electric lighting became more widely available these beautiful old oil lamps started to become redundant. Wealthy city dwellers happily switched to the new clean and convenient form of lighting but still wanted to keep the fantastic detailing and ornate nature of the traditional oil lamps which had graced their homes for decades. This early period of candlesticks and oil lamps is when the roots of traditional Brass electric table lamps took hold.

This Image is taken from a very old British Auction Catalogue and shows Oil lamps dating circa the late 1800s to the early 1900s, note the ornate nature and form of the Brass columns and fittings.


A Pair of late 19th Century Brass Candlesticks with fine detailing and ornate bases.

The Early days of Brass electric table lamps.

The early days of electric Brass table lamps provided a great opportunity for the “upcyclers” of the day to produce electric lamps from converted Candlesticks and Oil lamps. Much to the disdain of today’s dedicated oil lamp collectors a good deal of beautiful oil lamp bases were dismantled, drilled and electrified to make electric lamps. Everyday items of candle and oil lighting were also converted to electric.

Below are Images of an English early 20th Century Converted Candlestick and a French late 19th Century Whale oil lamp also converted to electric.


Early 20th Century Designs.

The early part of the 20th Century saw some highly stylised lamps produced with striking shapes and detailing. A testament to the design success of these early lamps is that many can be found new, reproduced today by quality manufacturers.

Here are images of an early 20th Century Art Deco Brass lamp which hints at its candlestick inspiration having a faux wax catcher and a rococo lamp that has a design based on a candelabra and uses faux wooden candles.


Traditional Brass Lamps of the mid 20th Century.

Traditional Brass table lamps of the Mid 20th Century were generally well-made. The Brass used was of decent quality and lamps were still cast and turned giving the finished lamps good weight and stability. This was the period when many Brass lamps (and other Brass items) started to be sold polished with a lacquer coating, this coating was thought to be a good way of avoiding the need for polishing in the future. With time these lacquer coatings tend to deteriorate and can sometimes spoil the look of the Brass, if you find a nice looking older lamp with a mottled lacquer finish don’t be put off buying the lamp as all is not lost. With careful use of a paint stripper and some TLC and time with metal polish you will often find that these older Brass lamps glow and provide a mellow warm look that is not available with new lamps.


A Mid Century Brass Lamp – Lacquer Stripped, polished and Glowing.

Later Traditional Brass Lamps.

As we move late into the 20th Century many brass lamps can still be found made in the style of and inspired by the early Candlesticks and Oil Lamps that were shown at the start of this post. One of the most common designs from early brass oil lamps was the “Corinthian Column” – This was a round brass column, usually reeded with a highly detailed Corinthian Capital at the top. There have been many excellent variations made of the Corinthian Column lamp, today this style of lamp is still very popular and in my experience it is the most sought after traditional table lamp.


This is a Corinthian Column Lamp from the 1990s by Laura Ashley


A Pair of 1980s Brass Table Lamps by Valsan – Based on Antique candlesticks.


Modern Brass Lamps with a Traditional Design.

Modern brass lamps made from solid materials and with detailed designs are still available new. Many high end manufacturers still produce brass lamps of the highest quality and made from excellent materials. There are a small number of these companies who still manufacture lighting with a strong link to the craftsmanship of days long gone.

The more modest modern brass lamps are often manufactured from spun and pressed brass sheet, these lamps are made in sections and assembled and stacked upon a heavy base for stability. These lamps are very effective in providing the traditional lamp effect without carrying the price tag of the high end makers.

Below are two examples of such lamps, quite different both in shape and design but manufactured in the same way.

One is a Baluster lamp and one a Faceted Column Lamp.



Buying a Traditional Brass Table Lamp.

If you are at your local Auction House, Antique dealer or flea market and a Brass lamp takes your fancy there area number of things to consider.

Weight – Older brass lamps are of heavy construction and will not be weighted under, the weight will feel even across the body of the lamp, newer lamps with a weighted base will feel very “base heavy” and just not as solid.

Finish If the finish appeals to you then great but if you love the lamp but the finish is not right don’t automatically give up, remember quality metal polish and effort can make an old lamp glow. If the finish is poor under a lacquer coating then all is not lost if you are prepared to invest in paint stripper and a bit more effort.

Damage Older lamps that have the odd mark, scratch and dent can easily carry these signs of life especially with a good clean and polish. I have in the past restored old lamps that looked very rough BUT with care and attention they became greatly loved pieces of Antique lighting history.

Bulb Holders and Wiring – As always with older lamps the wiring should be checked. Many Vintage lamps with original wiring and bulb holders in place will need attention. Standards have changed over the decades so bear in mind that you may need to invest in having your new traditional Brass lamp rewired or checked over.

As always there is no right and wrong, if a Vintage or Antique lamp works for you “go for it” while you have the chance – Remember you may never see one quite the same again!

If you have any questions or need advice on any item of Vintage lighting please contact me and I will always do my best to help.

Michael Adkins.

A few examples of other Styles of Traditional Brass Lamps.

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4 thoughts on “Traditional Table Lamps – Buying Brass Table Lamps

  1. This was a very well-written post! You clearly know quite a bit about lamps, and I learned a lot from reading this! I also liked how you used a variety of photos to show differences in design and make.

  2. Hello Michael, I love the way your post and website are laid out. It is extremely designed well and I love the pictures of the different ways that lighting has come along over the last centuries. Your article is well-written and will attract a lot of vistors. It’s a pleasure reading your article.

    I lived in Harrogate, England back in the early 1990s and I worked as an engineer at Menwith Hill Station. But I have always wanted to return. I am getting married soon and my fiance collects antiques especially British antiques. So we want to go back there and go to some estate sales to maybe buy a few.

    I think your article is well written and your website is laid out and designed well. Keep up the great work!

    1. Hi Danny- Thank you. You will find lots of exciting Antique shops and outlets here in the UK – They vary hugely in price but there are many great bargains to be had, Regards Michael

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